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Putting faces to the names

Of the 198 North Dakotans who were killed or declared missing in the Vietnam War, David James Corcoran of Grand Forks was the youngest, just 50 days past his 18th birthday when he died in 1969.

Nikki Holter
Nikki Holter, niece of Marine Lance Cpl. Robert "Skip" Bye (framed photograph) who was killed in Vietnam in 1969, thinks the the drive to acquire photographs of all 58,267 military personel lost in Southeast Asia by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is something her family "...would want to be part of." 2009 HERALD FILE PHOTO JOHN STENNES

Of the 198 North Dakotans who were killed or declared missing in the Vietnam War, David James Corcoran of Grand Forks was the youngest, just 50 days past his 18th birthday when he died in 1969.

Sgt. Ward G. Walter, 50, of Minot, killed in 1967, was the oldest.

Their names are on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., among the 58,267 soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen listed as lost in Southeast Asia more than 40 years ago.

Now the people preserving the names of the fallen want to collect and assemble their photographs, too, and make them part of a touring exhibit that puts faces to the names.

"We get the stories people have of their loved ones who were lost in that war," said Lisa Gough of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. "We read these and they just pull at our heart strings. It shows that so many years later, these people are still loved. They are still missed every day.


"So we want to gather the photos of every name on the wall."

That pleases the family of Marine Lance Cpl. Robert "Skip" Bye, killed in 1969 at the age of 20, including niece Nikki Holter of rural Larimore, N.D.

"That would definitely be a thing we would want to be part of," she said.

Not just statistics

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund was established in 1979 to promote healing, educate new generations about the war and its costs and preserve the legacy of those who served there, especially those who were lost.

The national call for photos was launched in September 2009, but it received a boost this week when groups in Kentucky announced plans for a concerted effort to find photographs of all 1,058 service members from that state killed in the war.

"Nationally, we estimate we have about a third of what we need," Gough said. "We knew it would be a multiyear task. It's a huge undertaking."

She said she wasn't sure how many photographs of the 198 North Dakotans are at the museum now.


"Realistically, we probably won't be able to get them all, but we're sure going to try," she said. "These people gave their lives for their country. They're never just statistics. Check into each one and there are always people back home who love them and miss them."

Gough said the campaign to find photographs is based largely on appeals to families and friends. "Beyond that, there are places we can go: universities, the military academies."

Photographs may be submitted electronically, she said.

"If you go to www.buildthecenter.org , that tells you how to download the photo, and there's a form you can fill out for identification," she said. "And if you want to provide a remembrance, we'll use that, too."

Contributions will go immediately onto the memorial's website: www.vvmf.org .

"There is a tab at the top where you can search the wall, and there's a page for everyone listed on the wall with some information, a photo if we have it and a place for a family to put a remembrance," she said.

"If you don't have the ability to scan a photo, you can send it to us in the mail. But you should only send a copy; we can't take the responsibility for sending them back."

The Wall that Heals, a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial, is on its annual tour around the country, and that traveling museum includes a scanner where family members may provide a photo of a loved one.


More information on the photo project is available at (202) 393-0090.

'I look like you'

In a 2009 interview with the Herald, Helen Bye, then 81, said she slips her son's dog tags around her neck every day, and she keeps a pouch of his letters from Vietnam on a nightstand by her bed.

"I take them out now and then," she said. "I take them out and I read them again, and I have a little cry."

For more than 40 years, she has led a large family contingent to her son's gravesite in Oakdale Cemetery in Crookston on Memorial Day.

And there are pictures, including a sketch done two years ago by Helen Bye's great-granddaughter from Skip's Marine portrait. "I didn't know him," 13-year-old Hannah Holter said then as she worked carefully on his eyes. "But I think he was brave."

And there is one more image.

Skip Bye had become a father just a month before he was killed. On the 40th anniversary of his death, his daughter wrote him a letter.


"Dear Daddy ... Just a little note to let you know what has been happening since you left us.

"I graduated high school, started college, met a man and got married. I had your granddaughter. ... She is very smart and a great kid. You would be very proud of her.

"I have been told that she looks a lot like me. In turn, I have been told I look a lot like you."

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to chaga@gfherald.com .

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